Smack Dab in the Middle of Life – Judgment Rushed

We judge so quickly. Why?

I came to work a week ago Monday after two issues on the national stage and my inbox was full. People wanted to know what I thought about football and teenage smirking. One issue was the NFL Playoff Game where there was a botched call by the game officials. The other issue was the Covington boys Catholic School incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial. These are two examples of a rush to judgment. But you know there are countless others we can cite in our own lives.

If you are not a football fan, let me explain the botched-call situation. At stake: The winner goes on to the Super Bowl. And the loser’s season ends. Millions of dollars and dreams were on the line. In a very important part of this game, the game officials (fans call them refs) missed a very big foul that should have been called. But it was not. The New Orleans Saints were sent packing, and the LA Rams punched their ticket to the 2019 Super Bowl.

The Covington boys Catholic School issue stemmed from a viral video of a 17-year-old boy from this school who was seen to have “confronted” a Native American who was believed to have been a Vietnam War veteran. The boy was wearing a MAGA hat. (I am not sure it would have been a story if the boys were wearing Nike.) The school was there for a pro-life march. The boys were accosted by another group – the Black Hebrew Israelites — doing their own protest. And things spiraled from there. 

Before the weekend was over, the nation took sides.

In common 

Here’s the commonality in both incidents: Outrage. The game issue was ridiculed right from the beginning by the “experts” telling us what we just saw. The fury with the boys’ behavior came from a viral video roughly four minutes long, appearing to show a young man standing in front of an older man who was beating a drum, as the two stared each other down. Rage descended on the boys almost immediately as the press and both sides of the aisle made the behavior of a 17-year-old a national political issue. We were all told exactly what to think by our favorite pundits. And we obediently complied. Instantly. I too was gullible until I watched the videos for myself.

In neither situation did we get a chance to make up our own mind. With the game, we were told right away – and very indignantly – that the official’s miss was huge as twitter instantly went ablaze. With the boys, we only saw a four-minute video clip taken from over an hour of footage. And the world was told that these boys, in particular one of them, were very hateful. What else could it have been? The kid was wearing the hated red hat. So ipso facto, you know?

Both incidents were handled extremely quickly by an immediately defensive leadership. The league officials admitted that they “blew” the call to the team after the pundits ripped the non-call on the broadcast. The school leaders were quoted as saying, “We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general,” the statement said. “The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”

All quick to judge.

To learn more about the Catholic school incident or the Playoff Game officiating issues click these links. There is plenty on the internet. 

Sound Off

I went back and watched both incidents with the sound off. I watched the play in the game at regular speed (no slow-motion), I saw a big hit and an incomplete pass. In the condensed boys video with the sound off, I saw a non-aggressive boy smiling at an adult beating a drum inches from his face.

With the sound on, we’re told by voices of authority how to interpret these two events. Passion ensues. Because of that passion we rush to judgment. What happens when the commentary is wrong, or just too early? Lots of media thrives on controversy, it’s good TV/internet. We feed off them, pledge our support on one side and then won’t back off our stance, even if the facts proved the commentary wrong. We are so hungry to be righteously right, we will join the mob of our choice to take a stand. Being right and fast is more important than understanding the facts.

But in our thirst for the self-satisfaction of outrage, real people are really hurt by our judgments. Very innocent, decent people pay the price of the mob opinion. I have a son who turned 16 just this week. The 17-year-old kid from Covington has been vilified for simply standing there, awkwardly smiling at a man who was beating a drum.

What happens to this boy’s future? Will he be forever tagged to this story as his life goes on? What will be said about him while at the mall with other teenagers as they just walk around? What about future hiring managers who find this story in a background check, and weigh the options of hiring him versus a similarly qualified candidate who won’t carry the controversial notoriety with them into the workplace? What happens to the officials and the head of officiating in the NFL, who have been vilified because of a mistake, costly as it was? Are they forever tagged for this one missed call? Will their body of work, which includes thousands and thousands of correct calls, be instantly obliterated by mass opinion?  

The Edits

It’s hard to find online footage of the football game in real time speed. Almost everything I saw explaining the play was in slow-motion and never in real time. Why? Because it is easier to see the flaw in the play when you slow it down. In real time speed it is not as obvious to the naked eye and from the vantage of the officials. The experts know this. But that is not good TV. So we create a storm out of sunny skies.

In the Covington case, the networks promoted only the four-minute, edited video. The actual video is a couple of hours long. So you and I were purposely focused on one part of the entire video. The pundits told us what they wanted us to believe about the kid in the hateful red hat. They know no one has the time to watch the entire video, and they use that knowledge as a tool to drive the belief of their choice. They know that we trust the four minutes of the video. But those four minutes clearly didn’t tell the entire story. 

The Torches and Pitchforks 

So we respond to the slanted stories with the blurry facts. We respond like a mob of crazy people, regardless which side of the story we want to sit on. I believe there was even a call to burn the Covington kids alive as they are locked inside the school building. We yell “How this can be?” as we denigrate anything or anyone who is part of the incident. We also chew up anyone who takes the opposite opinion. We hate on people. We blame. Blame the President, blame the kids, blame the officials, and blame a stupid red hat probably because it says again. Blame, blame, blame. I have grown tired of blame in all facets of life. We allow our own thoughts to be manipulated by others. Why?

Cheap Reporting 

In the rush to judge and get it first (not necessarily to get it right), pundits incite our own rush to judge. We are all pundits now. 

Google any parts of the two incidents and click videos and you will see a slew of ordinary people doing selfie videos and reporting on the MAGA kids and the “botched” playoff game. Yesterday we watched the news as family. Today we shut the news off because it’s so negative and the family unit is always running. We don’t have time to verify the facts so we blindly believe who we trust to tell us the truth. We still discuss as a family but it may be based on a snap chat post of seven seconds.

The media celebrates the average American as the “citizen journalist.” But in fact, we have really just become citizen tools to promote someone else’s agenda. When we parents use current events as talking points with our children, are we really just unknowingly teaching them to become citizen tools themselves? I don’t know what to believe anymore. I wish someone would just tell me what think–and they do

Skin in the Game

I am a former college football official and a father of a 16-year-old young man. So I take these two stories very personally. I know some of people involved in the football story very well. And as a dad, I have empathy for a teenager getting called out internationally before the facts developed.

We move fast to judge and slow to seek first to understand to quote the late Stephen Covey. We judge before a jury ever gets selected. Why?

Forget these two stories, in our own environment it happens every day at work and home. Think about a time you over-reacted on a slice of information at work. Or when your kid or spouse did something, and you made assumptions on shaky information at best. We make mob judgements all the time and have become desensitized to the people they impact.

The Wrap

I wish they would go back to just unbiased reporting. When we listen to others tell us how to interpret events, we are effectively outsourcing our critical thinking. Which is, after all, what journalism has been for from Day One. It’s a great labor-saving device. And time-efficient. We are all smack dab in the middle of life with things to do. I get it.

But allowing others tell us what we should think is an injustice to our own intelligence. And, as we saw from these two coinciding events, we judge the harshest when we are not involved in the story. In fact, we enjoy it. And the media knows that. However, here’s an experiment: Insert your kid or a friend into the story, and see if your stance changes.  

We have to remember who we are and why we are directed toward a pre-determined belief. If we forget our own responsibility to be independent, critical thinkers, we become dangerous people who act before knowing.

This weekend the saga of mob judgment continues. In the dock today is the Virginia governor, who may or may not have been in an ill-advised yearbook picture from the mid-80s. Was he racist then? Is he racist now? Was it him? The mob will let us know. I don’t know what to believe anymore.

As I write this, the pundits have been predicting that he will have resigned before Super Bowl kick-off. By the time you read this, we will know if that prediction played out or not.

Either way, it’s likely that our attention will have already turned in the direction of a new outrage. I just hope it’s not because of the Super Bowl!

Onward and Up!

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